NRC commissioner Kristine Svinicki said that the NRC has been staffing up to deal with the extra work posed by nuclear reactors currently being planned. She said that the US industry is also gearing up, with two large factories planned.
Speaking at Deloitte's annual energy conference, Svinicki praised the life extension programme, which has greatly increased electricity capacity. But, she said, life extension alone would not meet the needs of predicted energy demand in the US, expected to double in the next 30 years. If nuclear power were to maintain its current share of the US energy mix (about 20%), the US would need a total fleet of 150 1,000MW plants, 46 more than are currently operating today.
To deal with the 17 applications for 26 new plants that the NRC has received, it has been growing, she said. "At the NRC, we have established the Office of New Reactors and have been staffing up – which means our offices are getting a little cramped and we have had to locate some temporary office space – but we are meeting our goals. The NRC used to hire 30-50 new people per year. Recently, we have been hiring a net of 200 people per year over a three-year period. With the median age in the nuclear industry close to 50, retirement attrition makes sustaining any increase in staffing especially challenging."
The supply chain is also growing. She pointed to a rise in the number of certificates given to approved nuclear suppliers by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers to 225, from less than 200 in 2007 (on the other hand, it was nearly 600 in 1980). "In the area of physical infrastructure development, industry officials have also announced investments. For example, Northrop Grumman and AREVA announced that they would partner to build a 300,000 square foot manufacturing and engineering facility in Newport News, Virginia, to support what the owners hope will become a significant demand for AREVA’s new reactor design – the EPR. If they stay on schedule, they would be breaking ground this year. An even larger facility has been announced by another joint partnership – Westinghouse and the Shaw Power Group – to be built in Louisiana to support the new Westinghouse reactor design – the AP-1000."
She finished by arguing that any nuclear renaissance depends on the continued safe operation of the operating reactors. "Just as a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so, too, is the reputation and credibility of the nuclear industry dependent upon the continued safe operation of every one of its plants. The nuclear industry is now, and may always remain, just one accident away from retrenchment. We all – regulator and regulated alike – must remain vigilant and focused on safety."